“I don’t know what I think until I see what I write.” Those are the words of Flannery O’Connor, the American writer and essayist. As backwards as this idea might seem, I feel exactly the same way each morning when I sit down to write my first letter of the day.
There I am with my first cup of coffee and the letter I plan to answer. My mind is still rather blank after a good night’s sleep. The day hasn’t yet had its chance to invade my thoughts, but, as I read through my friend’s letter, ideas begin to flow. That letter I’m answering may tell me a story of love, report a discovery, or describe a challenge, and reading of such things will then conjure up my own similar experiences – or lack of them – and such reflections will start my mental ball rolling.
Once my thoughts are activated, it’s not long before my creativity kicks in and my letter response is off and running. Where it ends up is anyone’s guess!
Sark, in her book “Succulent Wild Woman” writes, “A story can travel without you and inspire many. The tiniest story in your life can deeply touch another. You cannot know the effect your story might have.”
If you keep this idea in mind when you write letters, your writing will become more than a simple free-time activity: It will become a way you can make this world a better place just by being you and sharing the best parts of yourself – your ideas, enthusiasm, faith, hope, compassion, lessons learned, and things loved.
Sark also says, “Creativity thrives in solitude – not isolation. As creative women we need community.” I suggest women aren’t the only ones who need community either. Everyone needs community.
No man is an island. Letter writing is a wonderful activity because though we may be enjoying the peaceful, luscious solitude of our home or the pleasure of our own table in a crowded coffee shop we’re alone in one way, but we’re not entirely alone. We have the companionship of our letter friend.
My best intellectual and/or creative conversations seldom happen while chatting with friends in person, even though I’m lucky to have many intelligent, creative friends. Maybe it’s just me, but when I get together with friends it’s more like a party, and conversations tend to stay light and festive.
In-person friends are forever jumping into each other’s thoughts with asides and comments. The topic is constantly changing. It’s great fun, but entirely different from conversations in letters. In letters there are no interruptions and the tone often becomes more serious and thoughtful.
In writing a letter, one has the chance to form all thoughts slowly and carefully, getting them all out before a word is written in reply. Therefore these written thoughts have a chance to develop more completely. By the same token, our letter friend has plenty of time to digest and reflect upon our words before responding to them.
Modern life and modern communication does not encourage these slow, thoughtful exchanges, and this is a real shame, for most people don’t even know what they’re missing. As with so many things, one must experience good letter conversations in order to understand how they can enrich our lives.
If you are a thoughtful person who enjoys shared reflection, I would think you’d love letters and letter writing, for, with the right correspondents conversations will occur that add depth to your intellectual life. Good letters tell stories. They describe comings and goings, explore feelings, and capture and preserve personal essence.
Letter writing helps us reflect upon and examine our stories and the stories of others, something busy modern life does not encourage us to do. Reflection is good. Shared reflection is even better. It’s important. Lord Byron wrote, “A life without reflection is a sad affair.” I agree. Don’t you?
So reflect upon your story, then write lots of letters sharing your most outstanding personal tidbits. You will tingle with awareness and eagerly await letter responses from your pen friends. You will feel like a real writer – and for good reason. You will be one!
“A story is a medicine that greases and hoists the pulleys, shows us the way out, down, in and around, cuts for us fine wide doors in previously blank walls, doors which lead us to our own knowing.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estes American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst